_________WIND FARMS_________ Seemed like such a great idea until they showed up near my house

 

Actually, they haven’t shown up near my house — but near enough.  And the place where they have shown up has severely strained my sensibilities.

67 of these monster wind towers have shown up on a beautiful stretch of farmland in Logan County, near Lincoln, Illinois, not far from Springfield, and the view to my eye is sickening.

The best that I can describe them is vexatious to the spirit.

You can see the wind turbines littered along either side of Route I-155 on what has always been a stunning, scenic view.  Ordinarily, there is not much aesthetic value in driving along on the roads of central Illinois.  It is usually so flat and monotonous that  driving any distance at all can be quite tedious.  For example, I have always considered the drive on I-72 from Springfield, Illinois to Champaign, Illinois one of the most boring stretches of land in the Midwest.  The 90 mile trip would put a cup of coffee to sleep.  It is a flat corn-and-soybean-scape that can dull the senses in about 30 minutes. 

The drive from Springfield to Lincoln has always been a little different from the typical road trip around here, and a great deal  more interesting.   For example, there is the fairly dramatic landscape feature of the community of Elkhart, Illinois.   The community is built upon a an unusually large hill that has a distinct visual appeal along with a rich history.  It also sits aside old U.S. Route 66, as most of this section of the newer road does.  The most beautiful part of this 30-mile stretch of road from Springfield to Lincoln, however, is the dramatic fall and rise of the land to a vantage point that is just short of spectacular.  As a child, I always dreamed that someday I would be able to buy a piece of land that would be perched atop this vista and it would enable me to see all the storms and tornadoes approaching for miles.  This description is not to mistake this property for the grandiosity of Yosemite, the Grand Tetons, or Sequoia National Park, but for central Illinois, the horizons don’t get any better than this.

So where is this giant wind farm placed?  It is scattered across the very land that is the most spectacular.  For my money, the sheer number of these wind towers has aesthetically ruined this area.

Surprisingly though, many of the people who actually live in this area, including many that were born and raised on this land, do not share my opinion.  Quite the opposite, it seems that their testimonials are by and large positive.  As described  in a very good February 6, 2010 article http://www.sj-r.com/carousel/x655690726/So-far-so-good-for-people-near-Logan-County-wind-farm by Chris Dettro in the State Journal Register, most people living on or near these wind turbines find them soothing, almost hypnotizing.  They describe them as more quiet than the wind itself.  Stress reduction, problem-free, good for the community, good for the tax base, and on and on . . .  are their narratives.

These land owners are also quite well compensated with payments for use of their land.  I am not sure to what degree the compensation factor influences their opinions, but if they are happy about their compensation, it would be hard to expect them to be negative about the turbines.  After all, so long as the towers are innocuous or so long as they just eventually became part of their almost invisible world, much as a new barn or silo might, it is probably to hard to argue with them.   It is hard to say when you don’t actually experience it like they might actually experience it on a day-to-day basis.

American people are inventive, innovative, and problem-solving people.  Deep down, I believe that most of us want to manage our energy needs in a smarter way that lessens damage to the planet.  I think American people want to embrace new ideas, new technology, and other measures which will continue to sustain the scarce resources that we have.  It’s unclear for our society about what to do next, however.  Should it be solar, wind power, nuclear again, a judicious combination of what we now have, or some other admixture of current resources along with attempting the novel?  The world is definitely at a crossroads now as to what is the next, best development, and how to pay for it?  Perhaps wind power is part of the solution.  Or, perhaps, it is too early to tell.

I continue to wonder, “Are we really thinking these things through, or are we in a frantic, semi-contrived survival mode where, not only now but in the future, we risk looking like a decrepit Siberia?  After all the cellphone towers, mega-watt transmission towers, and giant wind turbines have gone by the wayside for improved power-creating and transmission technology, will we be left with nothing but a horrific landscape?

I hope not.  Green needs to be more than that.

                          Montmartre: the Quarry and Windmills
                                           Oil on board, 1886
                               Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Even through the eyes and brush of Van Gogh, windmills are ugly.

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29 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmm, one should think of the alternative, I think. Maybe you would like a coal plant? They are soo much prettier, with the chimneys, and the smoke. As an added bonus they smell so refreshing, and are environmentally friendly. I guess now you’ll have to buy land next to one of those.
    On the other hand, maybe we shouldn’t build power plants at all. We’ll have to reduce demand, though, so I guess the market forces dictate electricity will go through the roof. A thousand dollars monthly electric bill, oh yeah.
    So think a minute before you post. Visual beauty is a matter of taste, pollution – far less so.

    • I interpret your main point to be that choices that we make with respect to energy are, none of them, shall we say – near-perfect. I agree that there are trade-offs and that necessity and reason trump aesthetics. However, my main point in the piece still stands, and it is simply this: When they decide to put a solar panel in front of your picture window, and it blocks your favorite view, you will have a right to voice your displeasure for whatever reason.

  2. I’ve been to a Scandinavian country where the heights of the mountains and waterfalls off them are beyond description. So beautiful, no camera shot could ever do justice to the scale and beauty of the scene.

    Out of every one of these amazingly beautiful waterfalls are electrical wires as these waterfalls are used to harness energy for that country.

    Eventually my eye was able to just tune out or ignore the wires messing up my view, or accept that they were part of the waterfall.

    In 15 years or so, my guess is that these gimoungous windmills dotting your countryside will be a normal part of the scenic view and no one will care or notice anymore.

    • I appreciate your comments. However, my best guess is that since wind farm energy is considered to be a transition energy source until it is replaced (plus, I believe that the life of these wind turnbines is only about 20 or so years at best) they will eventually sit there like unattended scrap.

  3. I don’t share your sentiments – to me windmills enhance the beauty of the landscape. I’m sure from far up they look like beautiful little white flowers strewn over a grassy knoll.

    The fact that they pretty much require open spaces also precludes further ugly development around them – this is also a big plus for me.

  4. Better learn to live with them, or shut down your computer.

  5. I actually think the wind turbines look a lot prettier than many of the ugly barns farmers have built. I don’t see anyone complaining about those.

    Not as if all the fields look as pretty as the pristine landscape would have either. Don’t see any complaints about those either.

    It seems that once something has been there long enough people start to think it belongs there.

    Would you prefer if they painted them green or brown perhaps?

    To me they look like progress. A sign that somebody cares to make the environment better for once.

    • Thanks for your comments.

      I don’t believe that I have ever seen a truly ugly barn. The ones that might be considered ugly are photographed, published in books, and win art prizes. People usually think of barns as “of the land” rather than “on the land.” Maybe it’s a matter of scale.

      As to what is progress. . . sorry, I have to disagree with you there. Just because wind turbine technology is relatively new (and extremly expensive) doesn’t necessarily make it progress – nor does it make it attractive.

      I stand by what I said in the article.

  6. I’ve been in the fight for years and you will find that most proponents of wind power are 1) ideologues, 2) hypocrites, 3) totally uninformed and 4) blind followers. Most are a combination of 1-4. The truth is that wind power will not and cannot offset even a tiny fraction of the power we currently use, let alone future demand. Wind is laughably inefficient and is being pursued because like, say, huge banks, it is made profitable by big tax subsidies. Keep up the fight and take comfort in the fact that most people agree with you.

    • I think a lot of proponents of wind power do know what they are talking about. Of course you will find people that don’t know what they are talking about in everything (especially conspiracy theory followers).

      Wind power alone is not a solution. If it isn’t windy, you get no power. If you are not in an area with heavy and fairly consistent wind, then it probably isn’t going to be useful. If you are however, it is very much profitable and very effective. Denmark is of course one of the most ideal locations for it, and is getting about 50% of their power from wind these days and are exporting quite a bit too. Given that this is replacing coal plants, this seems like a good thing. They also cooperate with Sweden (which has hydro power), so that when there is lots of wind, they store power in the hydro dams by pumping water back up, and when the wind is low, they get power back from the hydro dams. So given the ideal location of the two countries next to each other with ideal hydro and wind conditions together, it works very well. Most of the world isn’t that lucky, and for them wind may only be able to provide a tiny part of their power. A tiny part isn’t nothing though and may still be worthwhile in locations with a lot of wind. Anything it does provide is power you don’t have to provide through other methods. The running costs of wind power after it is installed is pretty close to zero and hence when the wind blows you have practically free power, so hence it can be profitable and is always worth using once installed. The only question is whether the upfront installation cost can ever be paid off by the power produced over the lifetime of the turbine, which depends on what market prices of power is, and how much wind there is. Tax breaks as incentives really doesn’t seem like such a good idea. If it would be profitable without them, someone would still build it, and otherwise, it probably shouldn’t be built. Denmark certainly never needed tax breaks to get people to build wind turbines. They were all in it for the profits.

      Those are valid arguments. Arguments over “It looks ugly” or “what about the health concerns” on the other hand are pure crap that won’t get you taken seriously. For north america, I suspect mostly the west coast and some parts of the great lakes would be worthwhile sites for wind turbines. The rest probably isn’t windy enough on average to be worth the bother.

      I personally don’t have much hope for solar (it just seems to take way too much fragile infrastructure and space to do anything useful). Nuclear seems very cost effective, although it has its obvious drawbacks. I expect we will see more of it though. Hydro can provide lots of power, in the few places it makes sense to do. The impact on the land around a hydro damn can be very high though. We probably should just get used to using less power instead.

      So I like wind turbines. I just happen to know they won’t be any use in most places and that they are no solution by themselves.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

        T. Boone Pickens advocacy of wind farms, in the part of the United States where it is quite windy, makes some sense to me. His people have determined that beginning in windy East Texas and moving northward, the wind farms tend to make them more financially viable. I think some of the offshore wind farms may be a decent idea as whole, although the Cape Cod one is a stinker. Other than some selected offshore spots and T. Boone’s model, and that is quite a big “model” for wind turbine proponents, I generally don’t like them one bit.

    • Thank you.

  7. culture shock has been happening since Gork fell on his bum after rolling his foot over a round piece of tree, hitting his head and realizing he just discovered the wheel. his mate made such a loud guffaw that he shunned even walking under a tree for years, until he saw his competition dragging his mate back to the cave on a rolly stick, and she was now laughing and getting ready to have more fun inside the cave.

    change happens, it isnt always the way we want it, but it happens, some like it, some dont, some remain, some progress.

    all theory of course, but im sure you know how i feel now about these gigantic whirlygigs!

  8. I like your Gork story. It reminds me of a story that maybe I should have included in my new post about bowling alleys and the middle class.

    In 1978, I bought a newly constructed house in Springfield, Illinois. Across the street, on a very large undeveloped piece of property, much to my surprise they built a bowling alley one year later! I thought that there would be more houses there. OK, no big deal, I should have check zoning before I bought, it’s not the end of the world, etc. However, what happened next was the kicker. The bowling alley erected a giant bowling pin as their sign. We’re talking the biggest bowling pin on earth here. It so happened that I knew the owner of the sign company who erected the sign. He told me that the sign was in compliance with city ordiance, and that it was a legal sign. It wasn’t as big as a wind turbine, but if you would have put some blades on it, it would have powered the neighborhood. It was out of scale for the neighborhood, for the city, and perhaps for the world. Progress?

    P.S. About 10 years later, they took the bowling alley took the sign down of their own volition. I think it was even too ugly for them. Now that’s real progress.

    • i started a short career in construction as an electrical wireway inspector at one of Bechtel Corporations behemoth nuclear power plants in Waterford Ct back in 1971. what struck me was the incredibly massive scale of the equipment that comprised the various sections. concrete 10 feet thick around the reactor, reactor vessel of 1-2 feet thick steel container, miles of wiring to inspect (my ‘job’) for compliance, 30 foot turbines so esquisitely polished they glistened, and massive piping to walk around in. in one word, awesome!

      that one unit delivered a claimed 1.2 gigawatts of energy for distribution. virtually zero noise, plenty of controversy, and now, reaching close to the end of it’s useable lifespan.

      our choice is— either create alternatives, reduce consumption, or expect god to provide? i’ll go with alternatives, as hairy as they may seem, they offer relatively lower risks for what will eventually be our childrens planet. add in a good dose of conservation across all energy use and education of the masses regarding 10 children families and the long term consequences of that. we must remember we are only animals, not some risk free entity without limits.

      progress? does that mean moving from a region of uncertain survival prospect to a more stable and less environmentally damaging method of life? it might mean we all need to work beyond our own weakness and reliance on external energy, and exercise whats been given us by the natural forces that created us. an easy fast life (from cheap energy) does not come without costs that eventually will be paid for.

      hey, bowling was easy, cheap an fun. at least it was last time i went, say, 15 years ago! then along came these blasted computers, the ultimate time consuming toy! ;-))

  9. “…the view to my eye is sickening.”

    So close your eyes.

    The landscape could be littered with farm buildings housing pigs or chickens.

    It could also be strewn with old cars and other junk.

    I doubt that windmills are actually that bad, but it’s easier to complain than complement.

    • It’s hard to close your eyes while driving and stay on the road.

      With pigs and chickens, I guess you can at least hold the steering wheel with one hand and your nose with the other.

  10. Wake up, everyone. Wind farms are NOT our friend!

    Let’s not forget that the Prairie Chicken is being pushed toward extinction because of wind farms being planted in critical habitat, forcing the grouse to avoid the very grounds it requires for breeding.

    Bats, eagles, hawks, cranes, swans, ducks, kites, condors, vultures and other soaring and migrating species are being decimated by having to avoid these lethal barriers of whirling guillotine blades during their travels — or be dismembered or decapitated in flight.

    The wind industry is NOT our benign friend. It is about profit, pure and simple.

    Embarrassing bird mortality — often the most threatened and endangered of protected species — being removed and buried rather than reported.

    Add the mounting evidence of HUMAN health risks from exposure to turbine strobe and vibration, and fire/explosion potential, and we have a VERY unsound energy source here.

    This is NOT environmentally friendly green energy. The propeller style turbines must be replaced with less lethal designs, like the vertical shaft turbine — and we need new ideas on how to prevent the extensive associated infrastructure from ruining last, crucial habitats for our most imperiled species.

    Even offshore fisheries are being destroyed by wind farm installations. The damage just goes on and on.

    What use is ‘green’ energy if it contributes to the extinction of still more irreplaceable creatures?

    • I AM TOTALLY WITH YOU ON THE DANGERS OF THESE massive whirling guillotines. there ARE other styles of wind catchers and they are effective and efficient.

      however, the prime issue is our rate of increase of the AMOUNT of energy we use. it’s disgusting!

      every newborn child becomes a slave to the energy using ‘accessories’ being drilled into their culture by parents and marketing slobs. its an evil circle of events, more ease of life, more energy, more fuel needed……. (more flabby butts, weasly frail muscles, inflated egos)

      little johhny just absolutely must go to the church school 500 miles away and return every weekend, mommy must absolutely get her new Gucci pocketbook from Mall of America and drive 1000 miles to go get it, or spend hours on the cell phone discussing how the neighbor had his lawn torn up, and replanted with a different type of seed. gimme a break people!

      this entire country (except me of course ;-)) has become a bunch of wanton, wasteful jerks.

      (sorry, no progress from me this time, just venting some dismay and angst.)

      • You’ve hit the nail on the head Pete K., — as long as humans keep reproducing without limits (and with natural death rates diminishing with advances in medical technology) we are heading down a path of true overpopulation that NO planet or energy source can sustain.

        Continued reliance on fossil fuels is not the answer, either. How many realize that OIL is used in agriculture? Not just for fuels, but for FERTILIZER and PESTICIDES. Can you imagine? We’re being FED OIL!

        Trust me, I am very much for life, be it a human, a dog or a clam, but we are placing stresses and demands on our fragile planet that no ecosystem, no fuel, no wildlife, and no amount of land can support – and especially not in the way we’ve grown used to.

        First order of business is to stop having so many babies. Even a ONE DAY break for the Earth would do some good. The more we can responsibly control our rate of increase (better yet, decrease), the more resources left for all, and the the healthier the planet will be for everyone.

        The Center for Biological Diversity understands the gravity of this crisis and is even issuing ‘Endangered Species Condoms’ (each packet showcasing a species at peril because of human overpopulation).

        Visit their site and find out more.

        Thanks, Pete K., for your supportive comment!

  11. You may have not intended to do so, but I think you have managed to express the state of mind that a lot of people are in. The sense of wanting to help, but not knowing how or where, is something a lot of us are going through.

    • Thank you for you comment. I think you are right on the mark about I feel about the state of wind farms as they are currently being developed.

  12. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

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  13. Good Story. The big losers in this are the poor birds and bats that now have to dodge these death traps. I will add more to your story with insight into the wind industry, corruption and our supposedly free markets.

    What if aircraft development stopped soon after the Wright brothers took flight in 1903? This is the situation we have with today’s wind industry. In actuality the archaic propeller style wind turbine is not even close to being a mature technology for the harnessing of wind energy.

    From The Illustrated History of Wind Energy by Darrel M Dodge. A Blown Opportunity In the seven years between 1974 and 1981, the U.S. Federal Wind Energy Program was an extraordinarily efficient and successful government research and development activity…………………. While the tax credits seemed to some to be an evolutionary development, they actually amounted to a complete redirection of U.S. energies. Planning for this re-direction was left to administration officials who thought that wind turbines were a mature technology that needed no further development. And who believed the over-optimistic claims of investment-hungry wind businesses that cost-effective and reliable designs were already available.

    http://www.telosnet.com/wind/govprog….

    Today the wind industry is making billions from this inefficient, noisy, mass killer of protected bird species.
    The truth about the propeller style wind turbine industry is not being told by main stream media. Why? The reason is that the media, big business and government are all one big incestuous family. For example General Electric, is the largest prop wind turbine maker in the U.S. GE produces roughly half of the new turbines installed in the country. GE also owns NBC. So we obviously wont be hearing this problem on NBC. They will of course be showing self promotional ads and glowing images of wind turbines with actors smiling. Similar connections run throughout this whole industry. The gulf oil spill should help open some eyes on the true character of big business and what the titans of industry are doing to this planet. In the last 20 year while America was sleeping corrupt politicians and Wall Street have created limits to their liabilities from doing business. They have done this in nearly every industry. The no surprises clause was deliberately written into federal law cover the wind industry against damages for the killing of endangered species with wind turbines. The way they have it all set up is so the wealthy can always keep their money and the little guy ultimately pays. For the Gulf Oil Spill the liability is supposed to be only 75 million. This garbage was written into law was because of the oil spill in Alaska by the Exxon Valdez. Everybody should pay close attention to the politicians and judges on this one.
    The potential to tap much more energy from totally different style turbines is on the horizon but only if we can stop the choke hold big business has on America. The Clarian wind turbine and the Environmental Technologies vertical shaft wind turbine both look very good and they would kill very few birds if any. I was told by the designer Sam Ikeda, that the Environmental Technologies turbine will produce three times the energy as a similar sized prop turbine would. There are other excellent designs as well but the industry will do nothing about it because they want to sell these archaic designs as long as they can. People need to understand that the Prop Wind Turbine is really a technological dinosaur that is very lethal to any bird that that is forced to live with it. I could hand the wind industry plans for a non killing wind turbine that would produce 100 times the energy and they would still bury it for years because they would have to stop making the billions in profit from the money invested in the prop turbine. This is why people need to get educated and get involved in this. The industry will not stop or change until they are forced to.

  14. I was driving north on I-65 headed to Chicago when I saw what seemed to be hundreds of these enormous structures. They were enormous. They had to be each at least 200 feet tall. They were just spinning away, producing electricity without any human supervision or any effect on the surrounding land. I pulled off the interstate and drove up to one of them. It was noisy at the base. I walked away from it, counting my steps to measure the distance. As I walked, I strolled past thousands of rows of baby corn plants, all sticking their heads out of the fertile black soil, completely oblivious to the aesthetics of their surrounding environment. I didn’t see a single dead bird or bat. Someone must have disposed of them in anticipation of my arrival. At about 1100 feet, I could no longer hear the wind turbine. Instead, I heard the constant droning hum of the interstate in the distance. Then, a man in a van drove up to me. He was an employee who works on the transformers of wind farms and other energy generating systems. He knew quite a bit about wind power. He told me that the farmers who own the land get paid thousands of dollars per turbine per year, and that his company had a position open in North Carolina: my home state. But he had work to do, so we parted.

    So….
    Electricity generated without any toxic byproducts or waste.
    Noise which dissipates at 1100 ft.
    Full agricultural utilization of surrounding land.
    Paying landowners for said land use.
    Few to no dead birds and bats.

    Remind me why this is bad again?

    Oh right, the view. Well, I guess we have to keep our priorities straight. We can only hope that there isn’t a massive air spill like in this youtube video. That could wreak havoc on the environment. Just imagine all the air-soaked corn plants and invisible dead birds and bats.

    • What’s the ugliest thing in the world right now?

      Oil spilling into the ocean at “who knows how many barrels a day.”

      What’s the second ugliest thing in the world right now?

      Gigantic wind towers hovering over amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesty. Oh yeah, and maybe Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Cod.

      Guess, you got me on that one.

      Guess what will be the ugliest thing in the world in just a few years?

      Those giant (and abandoned, obsolete) wind towers which will have been supplanted by vertical wind turbines, improved solar panels, and new synthetic fuels.

      So what do we do in the meantime? For starters, junk every SUV in the US, and reduce unnecessary vacation air routes all over the world. Next, make it a national mission to change the mentality of energy consumption. Just because someone can afford it, doesn’t make it the right thing to do if we have a national purpose.

      • when my mother was born 1907, her father had a car, a Chandler, i think she said it was. for six kids they used all the seats and the cool pop up seat in the back over the baggage rack. that was before WWI, no body even imagined the glut of gasoline consumptive devices that could be invented yet, but they were trying hard. and because there was ‘no end’ of the fuel in their minds, they were thankful they didn’t have to shovel that nasty black, dusty coal into the furnace every winter.

        skip ahead to now, gasoline will become a scarcer (or hughly expensive) commodity or there will become an entire class of peoples so poverty stricken they would prefer buyingv food before swallowing gasoline (survival, you see!)

        we get rain droughts in regions even today, and people still starve. so no real progress! Americans as a whole have NO CLUE to the ugly realities of the ‘other side’ of this planet. we will pay eventually, and it will be far worse than loosing a piddle of your retirement 401k.

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